Opera Australia's crowdpleaser flaps its way into the Capitol Theatre in 2017
Verdi (courtesy of Rigoletto, La Traviata, Aida et al) and Puccini (courtesy of Turandot, La boheme, Tosca et al) being the dons of Italian opera, and Madama Butterfly containing one of Puccini’s most exquisite and popular arias, is reason enough for noobs to seek out Opera Australia’s remount of Moffat Oxenbould’s much-beloved production.
Madama Butterfly (later ripped off to great effect in the blockbuster musical Miss Saigon) is one of the great operatic tragedies, about a young, innocent geisha who falls in love with and marries a caddish American naval officer, who shortly afterwards sails away again, promising to return. Three years later he does indeed return, but with a young American wife – only to find his Butterfly impoverished and pining for her faithless husband.
The key moments to look out for are the long, romantic duet at the end of the first act, the light-as-a-feather ‘Humming Chorus’, and Butterfly’s heartbreaking aria ‘One Beautiful Day’, one of the most famous works in the soprano repertoire.
The production is simply but stunningly staged, with a set framed by a moat of water and paper-screen walls that are raised and lowered to dramatise certain entrances in the style of traditional Japanese Noh theatre, and giving the impression of the figurative dolls house or magic box that Butterfly becomes trapped in.
Against this staid backdrop, the explosions of coloured-silk kimonos take centre stage, without ever upstaging the superb performances. This production definitely falls into the ‘crowdpleaser’ box.